The O’Malleys are doing what? How is it possible that dangerous complications arise from their simple vacation in wine country? With their recent move to South Whidbey Island, only the O’Malley’s would stumble upon drug smugglers, embezzlers, and murderers amongst the locals. The quirky, pastoral island, reachable by a less than speedy ferry from Mukilteo or the narrow, deteriorating Deception Pass bridge, is no match for the wicked men about to visit.
A notorious drug lord and a nondescript enforcer with freakish hell-raising skills invade the peaceful Pacific Northwest island—where not even the friendly locales and free-roaming long-eared rabbits can soften his homicidal heart.
Weeding through the facts and surprisingly connected characters with their trusted friend, Bellevue Detective Bill Owens, the narrative swirls from Mexico to Canada and throughout Puget Sound. It’s a heart-racing and outrageously offbeat adventure for two innocent people, proving once again that trouble will find the O’Malleys without the slightest amount of effort on their part.
Little Dirt Road excerpt
“Kevin, Jenne, wow what are you two doing here?”
Robbie Burns had surprised Kevin and Jenne O’Malley as they were seated at the bar, killing time while waiting for their room to be made up.
“Mick, hey, what a stunner seeing you here.” Although slightly less than enthusiastic, Kevin’s tone seemed to escape Burns’ notice.
` “The U.S. sales division brought all the leading dealerships here for a sales meeting. I’ve never been here, but man, this is spectacular. How about you two?”
Even though the O’Malleys had stayed at the lodge a few times in the past, Kevin was reluctant to get into anything other than a cool hello with this fellow, even though they were casual acquaintances from their membership at the same golf club. “We’re here for a few days just to relax and visit a few wineries. Hope you have fun, we’re just heading over to reception to pick up our room keys. Maybe we’ll see you later.”
The two interior designers quickly made for the exit and set out for the quaint bungalow that housed the reception area. “Kinda, gave Mick the bum’s rush, eh Kev?”
“Yeah, well we’re here to unwind and the less I have to deal with that asshole the more relaxed I’m going to be.”
“Just because we stopped working for him on that barn out in Carnation doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy.” Jenne was slightly less critical of the man.
“I’m not saying he’s bad or evil. I just think he’s a pompous ass, very enamored with himself, and I rather not be around him.” Kevin, on the other hand, was less inclined to be subtle about these things.
They strode up to the reception table where Aaron was looking expectantly at them. They knew it was Aaron because his name tag said it was. The lodge was comprised of forty or so separate bungalows, each a duplex, spread over a magnificent valley with sumptuous views.
“Mr. and Mrs. O’Malley, your room is ready for you now. Would you like two keys?”
“Aaron, my man, can I ask you a question about another guest? It’s not that I’m prying, I just don’t like the guy and I don’t want our cottage to be anywhere near his. I understand you have privacy rules but we’re here to relax, and he’s not very relaxing.”
The Lodge didn’t get to be exclusive without being attentive to their guests. The staff was trained to serve, above all else.
“I understand sir, what’s the guest’s name?”
“It’s Burns, Robbie Burns.”
Aaron looked up from his screen with a pleased smile and said, “Not to worry Mr. O’Malley. He and his associates are at the far end of the property. You’re safe.”
With Aaron’s assurance that all would be well, they hopped a shuttle to their Napa-style cabin, their home for three nights.
The drive to the wine country was always relaxing. Seven hours to Ashland, OR to spend the night and break up the drive, and then only four hours or so to the epicenter of winemaking in the United States.
Staying at the famous, and very expensive Meadowlark Lodge in Rutherford, the O’Malleys had looked forward to four days of decompressing. It had been a bizarre year to say the least.
Their Bellevue Washington-based interior design firm had more business than they could handle at the moment. Their involvement in a white separatist terrorist attack at Kelsey Creek Country Club had been at the forefront of the national news for the last twelve months, the resulting unsolicited publicity a windfall to their practice.
After arriving at a lovely cottage on the hillside overlooking the valley, they unloaded their things, then sat on the deck and inhaled the fragrant lavender-filled air.
“Finally,” Jenne commented, “It feels great just to sit and listen to absolutely nothing.”
“I’m pretty sure there’s a golf tournament on, we could see who’s in the lead.” Kevin was a big fan of the sport and rarely missed an opportunity to indulge himself with some prime Golf Channel viewing.
“You turn that thing on, and you’ll be having sex with yourself the next three nights.” Jenne – pronounced “Jenny” – was less enthusiastic about the game and apparently was enjoying the “quiet time”.
“Okay, well, you put it that way then hell, I don’t need no stinkin’ TV.” Kevin needed only to be told once that the penalty for interrupting their silence was this severe. Three days in this beautiful place with no frolicking in the sheets was not an option.
After a half hour of basking in the autumn sun on a cloudless October afternoon, Jenne was ready to leisurely stroll up to the main lodge building for the daily wine tasting.
While the lodge was world famous for their hospitality, its owner was world famous for his cult wines, offered at enormous prices. The everyday tastings were of excellent producers from Napa Valley and were accompanied by appetizers.
As the couple entered the foyer of the lodge they were greeted by George Harmon, the owner of the place. He felt it was his duty to occasionally show up at these social gatherings to welcome the guests.
“Mr. and Mrs. O’Malley, welcome back and thanks for visiting us again.” Kevin had to hand it to the man, he knew his business. They had been here two years ago, so it took some effort on the owner’s part to research the current crop of visitors.
“Thanks, George, we love coming here. It’s got to be the most beautiful place in this part of the country.” That Jenne, Kevin thought, she really knew how to suck up to a potential client.
“I agree,” chimed in Kevin, “You also do a wonderful job with your staff, they always make us feel welcome.” If Jenne could suck up then Kevin wasn’t going to be far behind. Much of the O’Malleys’ work was in the hospitality segment and they were always on the lookout for marketing opportunities.
Kevin caught the immediate eyeroll from his wife and took the cue to dial back the schmooze level. He considered himself among the luckiest men alive to have Jenne for his wife and he still wasn’t certain what she saw in him.
Kevin, in his mid-fifties, and Jenne, five years younger, had been married for seven years. Strangely, it felt both old and new at the same time. Because of their design firm, they were together almost constantly, though he never tired of it.
Her stylish gray hair framed a beautiful olive complexioned face, which was only enhanced by her wide-set hazel eyes. Avid hiking and a dedicated workout routine kept her physique in better shape than women ten years her junior. Yes, Kevin concluded, he was a very lucky man.
“So what do the two of you have planned for the next few days?” Even though it seemed Harmon’s question was perfunctory, his apparent sincerity was appreciated.
“We’ll visit a few wineries, do a little hiking and just kick back. We might even play nine on your executive course.” Kevin had played the little nine-hole course here at the lodge the last time they visited and, although small in scale, it was still a hoot to play.
“If you don’t already have appointments, perhaps our concierge can set up a few things for you. There are several very small producers nearby that make fabulous wine. Because they are boutique places, smaller than a few thousand cases, most people haven’t heard of them. Most of their production is sold to upscale restaurants but you can still purchase from many of them.”
“Geez, George, that would be terrific. Who should we talk to?” Jenne was never shy about leading the way.
“I’ll take care of everything. We’ll even have our car and driver shuttle you around to insure you can enjoy yourselves without any concern about directions or driving after tasting.”
Kevin wasn’t certain why Harmon was being so solicitous but he sure as hell wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. “That’s very kind of you, George, we really appreciate it.”
After they confirmed the following day’s agenda they headed back to their cottage. Rather than eat at the restaurant, Jenne suggested room service and a nice Oakville cabernet to celebrate their first night.
Kevin was secretly hoping that the festivities would further continue in the bedroom, but he knew better than to suggest the dessert items just yet. He was thinking those things always seemed to work out better if he didn’t do the planning.
The lodge was sandwiched between two steep hillsides, making for a cozy, quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the real world. On this clear, moonless evening, with the temperature dipping into the forties, the climb up the gentle slope to their cabin was refreshing.
The footpath, illuminated by pools of subtle, garden lighting meandered through sweet-smelling pines, lavender and clumps of feather grass. Rounding the last turn just short of their rooms, they looked up to a darkened porch leading to their entry door. The only other cottages they could see had their porch lights on.
“Looks like our light is burned out, not something you usually see at this place with all their attention to detail.” Kevin wasn’t overly concerned given the security of the resort.
“Kev looks like the door isn’t closed all the way. I’m pretty sure I closed and locked it when we left.”
“Maybe housekeeping left it that way when they did their turndown service.” Kevin’s suggestion sounded more hopeful than reassuring. The Meadowlark just did not make mistakes like this.
“Jenne, stay here for a minute and let me take a look first.” Kevin stepped up to the porch, reached inside to find the light switch, and flipped it on. Immediately the landing was brightly lit. “I guess the light works, it just wasn’t turned on.”
“You’d think housekeeping would know better.” Jenne was happy just to write it off as a mistake, perhaps a new employee on the staff.
“Yeah, maybe. Hold on a sec until I get the lights on in here.” As he stepped inside, Kevin flicked the rest of the toggle switches up, bathing the simply but elegantly designed interior in soft, efficient lighting.
The cottage was comprised of a foyer/living room area with a wood burning fireplace which connected to a bedroom, furnished with a king-sized bed, completed with Frette linens. Carrera marble and white subway tiles were the finishes of choice in the spa-like adjacent bath.
Normally Kevin would have relaxed at the sheer comfort of the place. Unfortunately, the sight of Robbie Burns’ limp body lying at the foot of the turned down bed and the deep red blood stains on the lavish Frette linens was going to curtail the planned activities he had counted on for the evening.
An invention that can save the planet?
Somehow, someway the O’Malleys have found themselves in the thick of things once again. On peaceful, bucolic Whidbey Island, they become entangled in a corporate plot to stifle a paradigm-shattering discovery, one that promises to upend conventional thinking, topple markets, and create an entirely new industry.
Kevin and Jenne, along with scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, find themselves pitted against a band of bumbling criminals who will stop at nothing to get what they want—including arson and murder.
It’s another rollicking adventure for the retired interior designers ably assisted by their favorite detective, the FBI, and Emma, their ever-vigilant German Shepherd Dog.
Join the O’Malleys, along with their ever vigilant German Shepherd, Emma, on Whidbey Island as they take on criminals, embezzlers, drug lords, and murderers, putting themselves right in the center of all the danger. With the help of their friend, Bellevue Detective Bill Owens, will they come out on top?
It was one of those dark, rainy afternoons in the Pacific Northwest. Four-thirty, and already the headlights were bouncing off the slick, shiny freeway.
I was on my way back to Whidbey Island. Playing golf in Seattle in late November was not for the faint of heart. Bundled up with rain gear, umbrella stuck on the push golf cart, wet khakis tucked into even wetter socks, we had slogged through eighteen holes of betting and swearing.
Usually, the Wednesday round was followed by more swearing, drinking wine, and playing gin rummy, but today was different. Today was Jenne’s birthday. It was the big one, double nickels. Well, sort of a big one.
Of course, she told me to stay, have fun and enjoy myself – no big deal. When you’ve been married more than once, you absolutely know for sure that birthdays are a big deal. Unless, that is, you don’t care if your sexual activities are curtailed for, say, a month or two.
Well, not this husband. No sir. I managed to make the 5:30 ferry. And also had the foresight to stop at Walgreens and select a lovely greeting card. From Hallmark. I figured the card with a heartfelt message, along with the bouquet purchased at the Star Store when I drove through Langley, would put me in Jenne’s good graces.
It should have been a wonderful evening.
But it wasn’t.
I made the right onto Little Dirt Road. About five hundred yards up the hill, on the unpaved surface, I turned on the crushed gravel driveway leading to our tidy, shingled home. We live on a bluff that normally overlooks Saratoga Passage. Tonight it was dark and rainy.
And there were no lights on in the house or on the grounds.
This seemed odd. I negotiated the six steps to the porch in the dark. Emma was inside, barking as only a German shepherd can, when anything, and I mean anything, is perceived as a threat.
“Easy girl, easy. It’s me.” She quieted only slightly until I opened the door—it was unlocked—and she calmed down. I flicked the lights on, rubbed behind her ears, and stupidly called out
Jenne’s name. She’s not here, you dope. She wouldn’t be sitting in the dark. I walked to the kitchen counter. There was a note in her writing. “Went for a walk in case you get home early. Back around 4:30.” It was followed by a little heart and a smiley face.
What the fuck? It was 6:45. Still not accepting reality, I dialed her cell. The sounds of “The Irish Washerwoman,” her ringtone, came from the little nook with the fireplace, just off the kitchen.
This was strange. Even though she always thought she had forgotten her phone, she seldom did.
I stood there, searching my mind but coming up with nothing. Her car was in the courtyard, her phone in the house. Where the fuck is she?
We didn’t know that many people on the island. We knew our neighbors and a few others, but few were close friends. The only people Jenne was close to lived off-island. And they did not come up in this crappy weather.
One thing was certain, if she left around 3:30, she sure as hell wasn’t still on her walk.
I walked across the dark, grassy area separating us from our neighbors, Tim and Raye. I knocked on the door, perhaps a little too forcefully.
“Kevin. Hi, good to see you.” Tim was a gentle soul and a terrific neighbor, always there if you needed him, and highly considerate in every way.
“Hi, Tim. Have you seen Jenne? When I got home, the house was dark. She left a note saying she’d be back at 4:30. Do you know where she could be?”
“Geez, Kev, no, I don’t. I did see her a little before five. She was headed down the street. I thought it a bit odd because it was getting dark, but that was about it.”
“She was headed south?”
“She always goes the other way on her walks and finishes by coming up the hill. She says it feels good to stretch out at the end of it.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m sure she was headed down.
Is there anything I can do?”
“Thanks. Not yet. Let me think about it first.”
Tim’s face showed genuine concern. “You know we’re here if you need anything.”
“I do, Tim. Thanks.”
I went back home and stood in the kitchen. “Emma, what do you think? Where the hell is your mom?”
The ninety-pound black and tan animal looked directly at me and twisted her head to the left. “Ah, I wish you could talk, kiddo.”
If Tim saw Jenne go back down the hill, maybe she was going to one of the homes on Saratoga Road. For some reason. To someone’s house, she didn’t know. Sure.
“Emma. Let’s go. Get in the truck.” Before I went entirely off the deep end, I figured a drive around the area might be productive. Maybe Emma could be of some help. Maybe.
We drove slowly down the hill, past Tim and Raye’s house and past the Robinsons, who lived on the opposite corner. Most of the properties were well over an acre. As a result, there weren’t many homes nearby.
After turning right on Saratoga, where there was no traffic, thankfully, we crept as slowly as possible. I rolled down the rear windows in case Emma caught a scent.
We passed three homes. Emma acted as though this was a simple trip to the store. Maybe even treats if she behaved.
On the left was a huge vacant field where sheep occasionally grazed. Beyond that was a long, straight two-track that served as a driveway for a home hidden by tall firs and cedars.
During our walks, we’d always speculate as to who lived there. Occasionally we would see an island car chug and sputter down the drive. Island cars are beaters that nobody would ever take on the ferry. They frequently break down, and hell hath no fury greater than ferry patrons missing the boat because some yahoo couldn’t start their fucking car.
We passed the mailbox and then the driveway. Then Emma went batshit crazy. It was close to nine o’clock when I pulled to the side of the road. I shut the engine off and turned out the lights, and tried everything to get the dog to quiet down, with no success. She had picked up a scent.
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Ted Mulcahey has lived throughout the US, the past 35 years in the Pacific Northwest. He’s an Army vet, sales and marketing VP, entrepreneur, business owner, avid reader, one of nine children, former caddie, and lover of dogs and golf. The last twenty-five years were spent in partnership with his wife Patte, as the owners of a highly respected and published hospitality interior design firm in the Seattle Area. They’re now living on Whidbey Island and enjoying its rural bliss.
Ted writes about things he’s seen and places he’s been. He tries to incorporate personality traits of people he’s known into his fictional characters, although none of them exist in reality. Many of the locations are real but the names have been changed.
Interview with the author
How did you do research for your book?
For Juiced I found a number of articles discussing the projects (including their battery research) at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
For Little Dirt I spent many hours researching harmful drug culture as well as the geography of the Puget Sound waters.
For both, my many years in business were immensely helpful.
Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?
The easiest, of course, are the O’Malleys. The mercenary corporate characters are fun to write but often difficult. Emma, our GSD is the dearest.
How did you come up with the ideas for your books?
The idea for Juiced began when I came across an interesting article on vanadium battery technology.
For Little Dirt, it was more of a desire to highlight the many beautiful areas of the Pacific Northwest.
Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
Mostly the quirky characters I bump into while living on an island.
What makes your books different from other cozy mysteries out there?
The locales and perhaps the sarcastic sense of humor from the principal characters.
What advice would you give budding writers?
Sit down and write. Then when you’re done for the day think about what you’ve written, but write without thinking first—that’s when the real you happens.
Your book is set in the Puget Sound area. Have you ever been there?
I live there.
If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be?
There’s a good deal of Kevin O’Malley in me, but he’s likely an improved version.
Do you have another profession besides writing?
How long have you been writing?
Off and on since my high school newspaper.
Do you ever get writer’s block? What helps you overcome it?
Not block, per se, but sometimes it’s difficult coming up with a satisfactory resolution that is somewhat unique.
What is your next project?
The O’Malleys find themselves enmeshed in nastiness among folks in the Walla Walla wine country.
What genre do you write and why?
Cozy Mysteries, mostly for an enjoyable humorous journey that takes the reader somewhere else, if only for a little while.
What is the last great book you’ve read?
It’s an old one, but Word of Honor by Nelson DeMille made an indelible impression. Probably because I was a junior officer in the US Army during the same period as the story.
What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
“I really had fun reading it”, is always my favorite.
How are you similar to or different from your lead character?
Similar in life experiences but I have considerably more foibles than Kevin O’Malley.
If your book were made into a movie, who would star in the leading roles?
Paul Rudd and Sandra Bullock.
If your book were made into a movie, what songs would be on the soundtrack?
“Ripple” by the Grateful Dead
What were the biggest rewards and challenges with writing your book?
The reward is in solving the riddles and completing the story.
In one sentence, what was the road to publishing like?
Gloria Steinem once said "Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else." That’s how I feel when I’m writing.
If I’m on the golf course, there are times I feel I should be home doing chores or doing something with my wife (although she’s probably just as happy in the garden than having me underfoot).
If I’m doing chores or something with my wife, there are times I feel I should be writing or maybe taking Emma for a walk. When I’m writing, though, I never feel like I’m missing out on something or feeling guilty about not doing something. There are periods I get so lost in the story, the places and the characters that I lose all sense of time. You’d think sitting in a crummy task chair for three hours with no pee or coffee breaks would force an occasional glance at a watch or clock, but that doesn’t happen.
I had dabbled with writing for a long time while I was working. Usually, it was a short story or maybe an article for a trade posting. There were dozens of openings and characters started and discarded over the years. Finally, after we sold our business, I had some time to fill and revisited the remaining detritus of my efforts. I deleted most and kept a few which turned into my first completed novel, Bearied Treasure.
The title was my wife’s idea, and I can’t tell you how many people told me I had misspelled Buried. It’s the story of a fictional cult on a small island just off the coast of Vancouver Island and features a humongous Kodiak bear. Being my first effort, it is riddled with amateurish mistakes, but I still love the characters and literally shed a tear or two when I finally typed the last period.
I think Ms. Steinem had it right, at least for me.
My thoughts: these books were a lot of fun to read. In Little Dirt Road a trip to wine country ends with a dead body in Kevin and Jenne’s hotel room bed. They head home, little knowing trouble is following them. Luckily they have a knack for making interesting friends and even a shoot out in a neighbour’s fancy wine cellar doesn’t stop them.
In Juiced, they’re at it again, embroiled in trouble – corporate espionage and murder this time. Jenne helps an elderly neighbour and inherits her house. Just in time to assist a scientist to create a battery that doesn’t need difficult to extract lithium and is cleaner too! As long as he doesn’t get killed, this will revolutionise power.
In both cases there’s crazy antics and very peculiar hitmen (the pair in Juiced in particular). Their friend Bill, a detective, cannot understand how the O’Malleys keep getting involved with criminals, from finding fentanyl hidden in a wall to scientific secrets under the floorboards, everywhere they go, they’re knee deep in chaos and intrigue. Luckily they come through relatively unscathed.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.
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